Jerk chicken is a staple within Jamaican culture and cuisine. Most locals enjoy preparing it often, while tourists flock to the island to get a taste of the dish fresh off the grill of their favorite restaurant or road side stand. For EBONY April 2023 cover star, Jodie Turner-Smith, jerk chicken reigns supreme in her roster of home-cooked favorites. It was a meal her mother prepared often while growing up in the U.K. as a way to keep the ties strong to their family's homeland and culture.

"My mother is a Jamaican woman through and through," states Turner-Smith during her cover interview. "She’s always cooked the foods and maintained the relationships. I never felt far from traditions. My mom always integrated our Jamaican culture into our lives. That's the reason I've always felt so connected to it."

The Queen and Slim actress further shares how her mother taught her how to make authentic Jamaican cuisine as a young girl, as well as speak patois. The sounds and smells of Jamaica were always present in their home, and she holds that very dear to her heart. Admittedly, jerk chicken is now the dish that allows her to flex her Jamaican cooking chops, while oxtails are her favorite to indulge in.

"I think jerk chicken is really my specialty. I make it in the oven, but when it's smoked, it really adds to it," shares the Murder Mystery 2 actress.

Jamaican jerk chicken prepared by Chef Ashley Ellis. Image: courtesy of Ashley Ellis.

When it comes to whipping up jerk anything, it's a dish that only true yardies can perfect. EBONY tapped Jamaican-born chef, Ashley Ellis, to share her secret recipe for us to attempt at home.

Ellis, currently living and working as a private chef in St. Croix, grew up in Jamaica in the parish of St. Catherine, but more specifically Spanish Town. Spanish Town was the first capital of Jamaica when the island was under rule by Spain. She's been in the culinary industry for 8 years, but has been cooking and baking since she was 10 years old.

"Food has always been a love of mine, and the constant visits to all-inclusive hotels on the North Coast of the island with my family opened my eyes even more to the array of food diversity and varieties," Ellis shares. "The love of entertaining and cooking came from being with my aunt and uncle, who would have a backyard BBQ almost every weekend. My uncle would almost always fire up the grill and make his famous jerk chicken."

Chef Ashley Ellis. Image: courtesy of Ashley Ellis.

The 31-year-old has now taken her uncle's recipe and perfected it with her own twists and secret flare. Although most Jamaicans will tell you their jerk chicken is the best, Ellis assures that hers stands out for one main reason.

"Many people make their own rendition of jerk chicken, but I know mine is special. It may be cliché to say my secret ingredient is love, but it truly is, "the Yaadie in St. Croix" chef shares. "There is something special about the happy energy transfer when I use my bare hands to rub that scratch made marinade into every crevice and corner of the meat. But here is my real secret—I put a little dark rum in my marinade, preferably, Appleton Jamaican rum."

Check out Ellis' finger-licking Jamaican jerk chicken recipe below.

Chef Ashley Ellis' Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Image: Courtesy of Chef Ashley Ellis.

Chef Ashley Ellis' Jamaican Jerk Chicken

  • 4 scotch bonnet peppers (deseed for less heat)
  • 2 bunches scallion
  • 14 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1- 3 inch piece ginger peeled 
  • 1 large yellow onion peeled
  • 14 sprigs thyme
  • 14 allspice berries or 3 tsp allspice powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg or nutmeg powder
  • 2 tsp ground cloves or 5 pieces fresh cloves
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 3 tbsp browning (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • ¼ cup Appleton Jamaica rum (any other dark rum you like)
  • 1 red stripe beer or favorite beer
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 4lb chicken bone in or boneless leg quarters or breast
  1. In a blender combine, onion, garlic, thyme, ginger, cloves, thyme, nutmeg, rum, peppercorns, allspice, vinegar, browning, brown sugar, scotch bonnet peppers, scallion until very smooth.
  2. Save ½ cup of marinade to make sauce, mix half beer and ketchup with it for basting sauce. Rub remaining marinade over cleaned chicken, cover and marinate overnight (for best flavor) or for 2 hours.
  3. Prepare grill and heat for 5 minutes. Put the heat on low and place chicken on the grill, skin side down. After 12 minutes and the chicken is lightly charred, use tongs and turn the chicken on the other side. Cover the grill and let chicken cook for another 15 minutes.
  4. Brush skin side of the chicken with basting sauce, leave on grill for another 5 minutes or until done cooking temperature of 165F. (boneless and white meat will cook faster)
  5. Transfer succulent jerk chicken to your plate and enjoy!


Appleton Estate Signature Blend

Price: $20

Spicy World Black Peppercorns

Price: $9

Red Stripe Jamaican Beer

Price: $11

Good & Gather Dark Brown Sugar

Price: $2